Tribe to decide how to utilize Salazar in ALDS

Hard-throwing righty is dominant in start against Twins

Tribe to decide how to utilize Salazar in ALDS

CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar headed down the dugout steps and could not contain his smile any longer. Surrounded by his Indians teammates, the pitcher flashed a satisfied grin as he slapped hands on his way to the bench. Above him, the Progressive Field crowd was still offering a standing ovation.

In a 4-2 win over the Twins on Wednesday night, Salazar did precisely what he needed to do in his final start of the regular season. The right-hander overpowered Minnesota's hitters with his fastball and generated some awkward swings with his signature split-changeup. Salazar pitched into the fifth, struck out nine and looked the part of a pitcher primed for the postseason stage.

Now, Cleveland just has to determine how he might fit into its American League Division Series puzzle.

"I just want to be in a spot for the playoffs," Salazar said. "If it's in the starting rotation, that's fine. If it's in the bullpen, that's fine. I just want to play and help my team win."

Indians manager Terry Francona met with members of the front office and coaching staff for a few hours early on Wednesday to dive more deeply into the team's ALDS roster decisions. With four games left in the regular season, and Cleveland's first playoff opponent to be determined, those announcements will remain in a holding pattern.

The lone decision that Francona has unveiled is that Mike Clevinger -- a reliable part of the rotation for most of this season -- will be in the ALDS bullpen as a multi-inning option. With Cleveland opting for a four-man rotation, the No. 4 starter job looks to be down to veteran Josh Tomlin or Salazar. Salazar could also join Clevinger in the Tribe's deep relief corps.

"I'm not going to give you our playoff roster tonight," Francona said. "Tonight, [Salazar] was a starter. He's not going to start the next four days. We'll figure out what we're going to do after that."

Francona on Salazar, bullpen

Tomlin does not have the kind of intimidating arsenal featured by Salazar, who averaged 96.4 mph with his fastball on Wednesday and topped out at 97.5 mph. Tomlin, who is the longest-tenured player in the organization, relies on a precision-based approach, but is also prone to allowing home runs.

A year ago, Tomlin posted a 1.76 ERA in three postseason starts before a disastrous outing in Game 6 of the World Series. The right-hander is currently scheduled to make his final start of the regular season on Sunday against the White Sox. Given his repertoire and style, if Tomlin is not in the rotation, he does not seem to fit as a postseason reliever.

Salazar has the ability to pitch like an ace or be a high-octane arm out of the bullpen, but consistency has eluded the pitcher all season.

Something clicked on Wednesday.

"I know he's happy," Clevinger said, "because he's been busting his butt this whole year trying to figure things out. Whether it's mental, physical, whatever the case may be, it looked like he figured it out tonight."

Salazar, who missed chunks of time this season due to right elbow and shoulder issues, logged 4 2/3 shutout innings and ended with one hit and one walk allowed. He threw 48 of his 64 pitches for strikes -- the righty was on a pitch count -- and fired a first-pitch strike to 11 of the 16 batters he faced. It was the best Salazar has looked since late July, when he went on a run of five starts with a 1.39 ERA.

At the very least, Salazar gave the Indians more to think about.

"Danny looked great," Francona said. "That was really, really encouraging."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.